Background of the problem
There is legitimate public concern for children whose parents divorce. No longer uncommon, divorce permeates every corner of society. The U.S. Census Bureau (1980) reported a 79% increase in the number of single-parent families since 1970. Divorce rates have doubled since 1970 and tripled since 1960 (Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, 1983). About 9 million children, one of every seven, experience parental divorce, and by 1990 33% of our children may experience family dissolution before age 18 (Glick, 1979).
Despite a recent surge of interest in the effects of divorce on the lives of children (Wyman, Cowen, Hightower, & Pedro-Carroll, 1985), the number of controlled studies that have been carried out has been disappointing in view of the urgency of the problem (Levitin, 1979). Potentially damaging effects on children's adjustment include increased likelihood of aggressive, undercontrolled behaviors (Emery, 1982; Felner, Farber, & Primavera, 1983; Stolberg & Anker, 1984), anger at the parents for breaking up the family (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1974), fear, depression, and guilt (Hetherington, 1979), more sexual behavior, delinquency, and subjective psychological symptoms (Kalter, 1977), and more anxiety, lower cognitive competence, and fewer social supports (Marsden, 1969; Pearlin & Johnson, 1977; Wyman et al., 1985).
The negative impact of such factors may be more pervasive and enduring for boys than for girls (Guidubaldi, Cleminshaw, Perry, & McLoughlin, 1983; Kurdek, Blisk, & Siesky, 1983), despite some contrary evidence (Copeland, 1985; Kurdek & Berg, 1983). Boys from divorced families have shown more behavior disorders and problems at home and in school, and it appears that they receive less support and nurturance than girls (Hetherington, Cox, & Cox, 1978; Santrock, 1975; Santrock & Trace, 1978).